Saturday, December 12, 2015

#FuckCancer

Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis.

The five words you never want to hear together in a sentence. The five words I'll never forget hearing together in a sentence.

Six weeks ago, I disembarked a flight from Cape Town with a heart full of happiness, a liver full of alcohol and, unknowingly, a chest full of cancer.

All I knew was that I had really swollen feet and I was short of breath. 

Let’s be real honest, I'm not an athlete, but I can hold my own in the gym, so I became increasingly concerned when walking from one end of a passage to another became a problem.

I'm going to cut a long story short and tell you that after a lot of testing for other things, we accidentally arrived at "Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis."

The news was delivered to me and my mom in a room with some bullshit wisdoms and fucked up cancer platitudes painted on the wall. (I took a picture of it while I was being told I had cancer because I just couldn't actually believe what a cliché it was.)



I’m not going to gloss over the feelings of overwhelming fear, nausea and grief that came over me in those moments. Even for a pretty medically educated girl, I can’t pretend that I didn’t immediately associate the ‘c word’ with immediate death.

I turned to my mom and told her that she was going to be ok. I told her she would need to be ok and carry on without me. She needed to stick around for her two year old grandson. It all sounds so over the top now, but trust me, the moment called for it. 

I then turned to the doctor who had just vomited “Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis.” all over me, and I asked her how soon I was going to die. She didn’t have an answer. She told me I needed to see a cardiothoracic surgeon as soon as possible, but it might take a week. I asked her if I could die in the next week. She said no. Finally, an answer.

So, I left the hospital that day knowing that I had at least a week to live. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was every bit as dramatic as it sounds.

I immediately started googling the fuck out of lymphoma and started to believe that I probably had much more than a week left to live.

Here are some things I learnt that you should know about my cancer:

  •  Lymphoma is highly treatable and dying just really isn't an option for me.
  • I have zero symptoms of the cancer. None. 
  • Cancer did not show up in either of the two full blood screenings that I had (the most recent was on the "Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis." morning.) Apparently, contrary to popular belief, cancer often doesn’t show up in your blood work.
  • The shortness of breath was simply a side-effect of the placement of the tumour.
  • My lungs are perfect, but I quit smoking anyway because I think I have enough cancer in my life at the moment.
  • Had I not been a paranoid, over anxious hypochondriac, it's likely that this would have all ended really badly.
  • The thought of having chemotherapy is every bit as scary as you imagine it is.
Here are some pretty mind blowing things I've discovered in the past few weeks about myself and some of you:

Cancer makes people uncomfortable
Some people leave the room really quickly when you tell them your news. Others stick around and give you Cancer Face.

I have been on the receiving end of more Cancer Face in the last few weeks than I even knew existed. 

Cancer Face involves a quite significant tilt of the head, dropping of the lip and excessive blinking of the eyes.

I used to think that the You’re Still Single Face was bad, but Cancer Face trumps it. And then the You’re Still Single and you have Cancer Face is a bit like watching puppies being clubbed. HORRIFYING.

Another strange thing I’ve discovered is that I'm most often left consoling you. I find myself having to talk you off the ledge about my cancer. I have to convince you that I won’t die. I have to remind you that Lymphoma isn’t a “scary cancer”. It gets tiring.

*Disclaimer: I know all of this comes from a good place.

Cancer makes people angry
I don’t mean, like, in a #FuckCancer kind of way. I like that kind of anger. I mean that it makes them really angry with me.

Some people are pissed off because I didn’t tell them in a sensitive enough way. Some people are pissed off because I didn’t tell them at all. Some people are pissed off because they don’t feel I’m taking this seriously enough. Some people are pissed off because I won’t update them constantly on my cancer. Some people are pissed off because I’m not sad all the time. Mostly, people are pissed off because I reject having every moment of my life consumed by cancer. I refuse to talk, live and breathe cancer from the moment I open my eyes to the moment I close them.

Some people are pissed off because I’m not answering a lot of calls. Please rather just drop me a message. I’m not a good phone person on the best of days, and I know you want to talk to me about my cancer, but I don’t always want to be on the phone talking about my cancer.

Cancer is part of my new normal. And that’s only a small part of it. I still get on with my regular life and do regular things. I just happen to have cancer while doing it.

There is no great way of telling you I have cancer. If I didn’t tell you about it, I probably thought you didn’t need to know or I had no interest in you knowing (Although there are some exceptions to this. I did try telling a couple of people and the moment just wasn’t right.). How I handle my cancer is my prerogative. I’m taking it very seriously, but I’m also allowed to laugh at it, see the absurdity in it and make inappropriate jokes. Trust me, there have been many tears and a lot of anger. I have felt all the feels.

The angry people need to take a deep breath. It’s my cancer and I’m the boss of it.

*Disclaimer: I know some of this comes from a good place.

I'm fierce as fuck
I always knew I was tough. I always knew that I was competitive and would never play a game I didn’t think I could win. I always knew I was stubborn and extra motivated by achieving things people said I couldn’t.

But who knew I was fierce as fuck? I am blown away by the strength of what lives inside my mind, my heart and my gut. I hadn’t seen this Jo before, but I like her a lot.

I go into fierce as fuck mode when I'm terrified
I’m going to try and find a new way to trigger this mode without having the absolute shit scared out of me.

I’m also terrified that people will see me as the sick girl, or they’ll treat me like I’m feeble. Fierce as fuck mode hopefully stops that in its tracks.

I don't want you to post a no-makeup selfie for me. DON'T.
This was one of my earlier thoughts when I found out I had cancer. I had always wondered what I’d think of these selfies if I was on the receiving end of them. I can now tell you without reservation that I couldn’t find a single fuck to give about seeing you without make up.

I do have some thoughts about a Random Acts of Cancer Kindness project that I’d like to chat to you about soon.

I'm vain
I’m much vainer than I ever thought. I’m horrified just how vain. One of the first things that I thought when I heard I’d need chemo, was the hair loss. I had no idea how attached I was to how other people saw me. This is still a VERY big thing for me, but I have a definite plan in place for the hair loss. I wish I could own being that girl who rocks the Britney (circa 2007), but I just don’t see it happening.

Our lives are so small
Having cancer follow you around puts things squarely into perspective. It also heightens your senses and turns up the volume nauseatingly loud on the insignificant shit people complain about.

While I’m the first to say that cancer isn’t everything and life goes on, there are so many reasons for us to feel shitty about our lives; Why do we go look for more?

My people are the best fucking people
It’s too difficult for me to explain how my people have stepped up for me. The thing about cancer that has made me cry the most, is the incredible kindness, loyalty, humour and support that has come from my corner.

None of them have expected me to console them. None of them have minimised this or pretended it could be nothing. They've all boarded the cancer train as willing passengers (even though none of us want to be on it). They’ve made space for tears, they’ve made space for inappropriate laughs, and most importantly, they’ve made space for absolute normality.

They still give me the same shit they did before, they are still every bit as bossy as they were before and they’re still perfectly in tune with when I need an ass kicking.

My amazing handful of friends and family, you know who you are and I fucking love you with a ferocity that should scare you a little.

And my Mom. My mind-blowing mom. My mom who deserves to go through none of this. You are the centre of my world and I swear I will fight with everything in me so that you don’t have to experience any more heart ache.

So here is where we’re at…

We’re still waiting for exact staging and grading of my tumour, so that we can start working on a treatment plan. We know it’s Lymphoma, but we need confirmation of type and subtype (cancer is complicated), in order to determine what cocktail of chemo I need.

It’s a waiting game, so we’re just hurrying up and waiting.

In the meantime, I just want you to know how blown away I have been by how many of you have sent messages, flowers, love, support, encouragement, prayers, and kindness. You have made me feel a million feet tall and even more fierce as fuck.

If this is the first you're hearing of this, just know that I'm in good health and great spirits. Don't worry too much! Also, don't send me a no makeup selfie and don't try and call me. I probably won't answer ;)

Lastly, I just want you to know that this blog post is not a cry for help, an attention seeking exercise or an invitation to reopen closed doors. More than anything, this is a cautionary tale. I'm 37 and I have cancer. Who the fuck knew? NO ONE.

Ignore nothing. It’s ok to be a bit of a hypochondriac. Nag your doctors until you feel heard. Don’t procrastinate when it comes to your health. Let me tell you this while I’m still very much immersed in the moment, there is nothing in this world as important as your health and having people who love you in your corner. NOTHING.

#FuckCancer